Thursday, June 2, 2011

Syngenta Dumps Upriver, Sells Fertilizer Downriver

If you are one of the biggest seed and agrochemical multinationals in the world, you might have enough confidence in your products to launch them on the market without trying to get people 'hooked' on them, right? But if you know that the only way to get your merchandise 'accepted' is to create some kind of dependency before people even know what's going on, you might stoop to any trick.

Well, in the case of Syngenta and their genetically modified organisms (GMO), it is clearly not in the interest of poor farmers to buy seeds that are more expensive, give a similar or lower return and involve significant increases in more expensive agricultural inputs, in addition to degrading the environment and resulting in the loss of sales to countries that don't buy GMOs.

Syngenta is one of the biggest seed companies in the world. Along with Monsanto, DuPont and Limagrain, they control over 50% of the seed market. It is also one of the biggest agrochemical companies in the world. Along with DuPont, Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and BASF, they control 75% of the market.

So it's easy to see why Syngenta don't expect people to buy their seeds without some 'sweetners'. In Kenya the Syngenta Foundation, itself a non-profit, but wholly funded by the organisation that benefits directly from its dirty work, has found it expedient to sell seeds that come with built in insurance.

Officially, commercial GMO agriculture does not even exist in Kenya. But the Syngenta Foundation has, apparently, tricked 12,000 farmers into buying their seeds and they hope to recruit another 50,000 additional suckers. They have even given the scheme a nice Kiswahili name, Kilimo Salama (Safe Farming).

A good drug pusher would be proud of the scheme. When the farmer buys the seeds, they also get insurance, so if there is too much rain, too little rain, to many pests or conditions are otherwise inclement, the farmer is eligible for compensation. Conditions are monitored remotely in GMO contaminated areas so no money will be wasted on assessing individual circumstances.

Once a farmer buys GMO seeds, they need to buy the seed manufacturer's inputs, such as pesticides. As the pesticides cease to work, as they have done everywhere else, the farmer needs to purchase them in larger and larger quantities. These pesticides are already more expensive than other products, but other products don't work at all with GMOs. And once the manufacturer's pesticides are completely useless, they can sell you an 'improved' version, which is even more expensive, and you can start the vicious cycle all over again.

GM cotton, which is now common in India, was introduced by such trickery, before it was even legal to grow it. Having been introduced by the back door, the claim was that most of the country's crop was contaminated, so there was little point in opposing it. It was a done deal, supposedly. India has spent the years that have followed regretting that they went down the GMO path in the first place. But it is unlikely they will ever be able to reverse the process now.

GM contaminated maize has also been surreptiously brought into Kenya. Someone knew, of course, but it wasn't done legally. The maize was legitimately imported from South Africa, as far as the vendor was concerned. The shipment was not certified GMO free, but nor was such certification sought. Some of that maize may have remained in the port, it's hard to find out, but GM contaminated maize is apparently now common in Kenya. Is GMO now a done deal in Kenya, before most of the public have even been armed with impartial information about what they are getting themselves into?

This doesn't seem to be the behavior of a multinational that has confidence in its products or that has the interests of Kenyans at heart. The country may have gone through the motions of creating the legislative framework, but no one would claim that Kenya is in any position to monitor GMO contamination, let alone commercial production of GMOs. But that's the way multinationals like Syngenta operate. It's also unlikely that Kenya is the only African country to have suffered this fate.

It shouldn't take long before people in Kenya start to notice some of the disadvantages of taking the Syngenta shilling. Those who farm close to where GMOs are grown will soon be growing GMO contaminated crops. Contamination is inevitable, through wind, water, soil movement, crop proximity, seed swapping, etc. And even those who grow GMOs and then revert to conventional seeds will also end up with contaminated crops. And the seed owner, because the farmer is not the seed owner, will be entitled to make claims against the farmers for patent infringement. Notice, they are not selling insurance against patent infringement or contamination!


1 comment:

Simon said...

Some background reading on GMOs suggesting that the ones that work best might have the lowest yields: